Shemot Chapter 2 has the incident of Moshe slaying the Egyptian who was beating the Hebrew slave. He "looks this way and that", kills him, and buries him in the sand. After he realizes "the matter is known", and Pharoah wants to kill him, he flees to Midian. Next Chapter, instead of punishing him, or at least letting him know He knows he's got blood on his hands, He grants him the vision of the burning bush and informs him he's been elected Prophet to the Children of Israel.

I get the feeling some information is missing here...and questions arise:

Why didn't HaShem punish or at least rebuke Moshe for killing the Egyptian?

Was it "justifiable homicide"?

Is there any information in the Literature that clears up this situation?

I always thought that it was kind of odd that Moshe was explicitly denied entrance to the Land of Israel because of the incident where he struck instead of spoke to the rock/spring, and not also because he killed a man in anger.

  • 3
    Perhaps the Hebrew slave he was beating up was at risk of dying?
    – Double AA
    Jan 9, 2015 at 6:12
  • 5
    Can you substantiate your claim that Moshe did this "in anger"?
    – msh210
    Jan 9, 2015 at 7:03
  • The sequence of actions - seeing the beating, scanning the area for witnesses, killing the guy - seems rather quick to me...like a flush of anger. He didn't(at least with the info given)stop, cheerfully call out "Hey, why you beatin' on that Hebrew like that?", and then only strike and kill the guy after he ignored Moshe and just kept on beating the Hebrew.
    – Gary
    Jan 9, 2015 at 14:01
  • Also, it says the Hebrew was "of his brothers". Maybe it was Aaron or another close relative that was getting beaten? Seeing THAT would probably provoke anger, IMHO.
    – Gary
    Jan 9, 2015 at 14:39
  • I just want to say Thank Folks for all the different ideas you brought up from the later literature, covering over a millennium of writings--And I wish there was a way to split an answer choice 3 ways!
    – Gary
    Apr 4, 2017 at 5:29

3 Answers 3


The Midrash Raba 1:28 says it was justifiable:

One time, an Egyptian taskmaster went to a Israelite kapo and looked at his wife, who was beautiful without blemish. He got up at cockcrow and removed him from his house and (the Egyptian) returned and bedded his wife, who thought he was her husband…. Once the taskmaster knew that [the husband] knew about him, he returned him to the hard labor and he would hit him, attempting to kill him. Moshe saw this and looked at him and saw with divine inspiration what he had done in the house and what he would do to him in the field [i.e. kill him —commentary of R. David Luria]. He said, "This one surely is liable to death, as it says 'one who smites a person [dead] shall die'; moreover, he lay with [the Israelite's] wife, so is liable to be killed, as it says 'the adulterer and adulteress shall die'"….

This is cited in brief by the commentaries of Rashi and the Chizkuni also.

  • 2
    I've also read stories that the husband was one of Datan or Aviram, I think the latter. And that the wife was from the tribe of Dan and the son of this relationship was the blasphemer.
    – CashCow
    Jan 9, 2015 at 11:04
  • What mitigates against the idea that was simple rodef is that he checked to see what merit from ancestors or descendants this Egyptian had (as brought in Rashi there). That wouldn't be relevant in a true rodef situation. Even a simple reading that he was looking to avoid witnesses would be complicated to understand in a rodef situation.
    – Yishai
    Jan 9, 2015 at 17:17

The Beis Yosef Y.D 158, followed by the Rema (Darkei Moshe 158:2) and the Shach (158:2) understand, based on Tosefos to Avoda Zara 26a s.v. ולא מורידים, that when the Mishna says אין מורידים, it means that even though your average gentile violates the 7 Noahide laws, there is no mitzvah to kill them, but there is no prohibition. (In fact, Tosefos there feels that not killing them needs to be justified - he brings a verse to source the fact that there is no obligation to kill these violators.)

Egypt worshiped many gods - the Nile (Shemos Rabba 9:9), Baal Tzafon (Mechilta, cited by Rashi to Shemos 14:2), etc. So your average Egyptian was an idolater. There would therefore be no prohibition to kill them - they are גברא קטילא - dead men walking.

There are concerns of איבה involved (see Tosefos to Avoda Zara 26a s.v. דלא), but Moshe looked around to make sure no one was watching.

Therefore, there was no "blood on his hands" to rebuke Moshe for - he had not committed a prohibited act of murder.

In this situation, where Moshe had a pressing reason to get rid of the Egyptian, there seems to be justification and no violation.


Rav Saadya Gaon (commentary there) understands Moshe killed the Egyptian accidentally.

Regarding why Moshe struck him in the first place, I haven't found any commentators who suggest that this was out of anger (nor do I see any indication for this in the verses). Striking an assailant who who is beating up an innocent person seems like a very appropriate response.


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